The global COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, but the digital means have helped remedy a lot of the gaps created by the crisis. This year, industry staple Cannes event Midem has gone digital and Show4me joined the trade show, having met with some amazing talent and learned a variety of views on the state of the industry from fellow players.
Digital Midem 2020 was where we met our today’s interviewee – Yiannis Kapsaskis aka Jon Kaps. He is a label executive and a music writer from Greece.
Yiannis handles the press office for Made Of Stone Recordings and writes for Efsyn.gr. We talked to him about some of the most ever-green topics for musicians – getting your record out there, building income streams both with your music and shows and additional means, like merch, as well as the state of the industry in the time of social distancing and working from home.
Hi, Yiannis, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. You work to help get music out to as many people as possible, what would you say makes a track or an album easy to get out there?
For the people in the business this is a classic question that can lead them in a trap, get them going on about sales techniques, structured release plans and targeted pitching, but the most important thing is for the track or the album to be amazing.
Sure, you can put an effort behind anything and make it work potentially, but unless the raw material isn’t mind blowing, it won’t go far.
It’s the reason why classic albums and artists keep on showing impressive numbers, either in digital and physical sales, or in concert revenue. Everyone is hungry for the next big thing and the gold digging never stops, but it will always have to start with awesome music and performance. As much as we can step our game up as executives and marketeers, nothing can top the word of mouth as a promotional tool.
You specialize on hard rock and metal, who are the musicians currently at the top of the game in the industry, in your opinion? What got them there?
Isn’t the word “specialize” frightening? Especially for the spectrum of heavy music, it’s impossible for someone to hold such a title, it’s so vast and ever evolving in the last five decades, that even the professionals struggle to keep up with it.
You must have heard that the great power of it comes from the loyal and committed audience and this is the absolute truth. Once metalheads love a band or artist, it’s for life and that is why the major players in the game are the historic bands that date back to the early 1980s in some cases. Still the most profitable tours will be the ones by Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest or AC/DC, regardless of their latest album quality or commercial success. Of course, there is a strong next generation wave of game changers in the likes of Rammstein, Ghost, Gojira, Avenged Sevenfold or Lamb of God, to mention a few, who also have unshakable fan bases and are meant to leave an eternal mark on the genre.
The experience of catching an act at the moment when its greatness is born (usually in an overcrowded basement) is unmatchable.
Having said all that and while they all represent the larger percentage of the annual revenue and attendance numbers, the true strength and foundation of heavy music as a genre, has always been and forever will be the underground.
It’s the place where the struggle is creative, where the relationships and all that neverending love is nurtured, it’s what hasn’t been shaken by any of the commercial crises that come and go, because the monetary assessment is irrelevant. As much as we all desire to be impressed by a huge liveshow production and the roar of large crowds in arenas and festivals, the experience of catching an act at the moment when its greatness is born (usually in an overcrowded basement) is unmatchable.
As a writer, could you share what makes a band/musician easy to write about?
For that, you will need what I call “some spectacular peaks”. They’re going to have to be either amazing in every way or absolutely horrific in order for context to exist.
Writing about music is quite an abnormal thing to do, it is not meant to happen. Music is to be heard and witnessed, not described and portrayed. However, it is the way that grants us existence, so we are in need of context. Ideally, should be the actual, fantastic composition, but we will make do with anything, as long as it stands out.
All of the live show industry halted overnight, no matter the size or reach, every record label had to reconsider release schedules, marketing plans went out the window.
There is an old saying between music writers that the average records are the worst to write about. When the music is mediocre, it’s almost impossible to make a cool and engaging piece. If you’re lucky and it’s an astonishing work or an unquestionable disaster, the creativity flows. Some will say, mostly in the latter!
From where you stand, how has the industry changed now due to the need to social distance?
It has undoubtedly been one of the greatest shocks in music history. Mostly, because it hit without warning, there were no signs of anything like that, no precedent and it hurt everyone, without exception. All of the live show industry halted overnight, no matter the size or reach, every record label had to reconsider release schedules, marketing plans went out the window and of course, the underground lost all motion.
I don’t think anyone has yet mapped out a permanent solution as it still hasn’t been clear whether we’re going to wait it out or adapt in a new reality where social distancing will be the norm.
Only the livestreams have offered a much needed alternative, but we can’t be sure if it’s a solution or a patch.
Do you watch music livestreams?
Actually, it has been under my radar for a while now, I remember Download Festival in England used to livestream some performances since 2008 or 2009 already and it always was a fantastic treat. Not having the ability to attend an event, but you can still get a glimpse of the action from your living room? Sign me up, any day!
Of course, as the years went by, it became more popular and it was a life saver in this period of isolation. In particular, Enslaved, a fantastic blackmetal band from Norway, dipped in adventurous creativity and immerse quality, did a whole set that was livestreamed with great success.
Here at Show4me we’ve introduced the ticketed online show functionality at the beginning of April and have seen a huge demand for the format from our artists. What’s your opinion on whether live stream concerts can recreate the atmosphere of an in-person event or it’s something completely different?
I don’t think it should be measured like that, in comparison. Of course there’s a demand, as everyone would like to witness their favourite artists in any way, but battling the in-person experience with the online accessibility is pointless. I see it more like the live broadcasting of a sports event. Is it better to witness it from the stadium seats? Possibly. Is it the same as an old YouTube video? Absolutely not.
Right this moment, there’s somewhere a new trend some kids are crazy about, that it’s going to blow up soon.
You can definitely tell the live performance vibes through a livestream, even if more of your senses would be involved if you were actually present.
Have you noticed any changes in what music is more in demand?
It always depends where you look. There’s definitely a global rise in hip hop’s popularity and rightly so, as it has made significant progress in the last decade artistically wise, so if you combine that with the slow “response” of rock n roll’s development (the last time real innovation took place there was the early 2000s) it makes sense, as more and more people were looking for a fresh approach.
Apart from that, if you narrow it down to specific groups, there is always variety, but what excites me personally, is that right this moment, there’s somewhere a new trend some kids are crazy about, that it’s going to blow up soon and right now, I have absolutely no clue about.
With partial reopenings in various locations, some events have been able to take place with substantial distancing measures, where people stood or sat at a 1.5 meter distance from each other and wore masks. How do you think the need to restrict human interaction within a rock or metal show can impact the quality of the experience?
I couldn’t tell as well as nobody could, because nothing like that has never happened before. Maybe it will be the new pattern and we’ll have to wait and see.
What I do know, as everyone who attends underground gigs also knows, when the crowd is so thin due to poor attendance and it somehow resembles social distancing, it always makes for a poor show.
It’s a known fact that many touring bands earn a substantial income not just from ticket sales, but from merch. And these days with many tours and events cancelled, merch sales help a lot of artists. In the online shows on Show4me that I mentioned earlier artists often include ticket packs that include merch to up the profits. Why do you think fans buy merch? Is it just the band T-shirt fashion of the moment or something deeper?
If someone went through the trouble to measure, I’m sure the merch industry is as large and meticulous as any other commercial venture around music. It is clearly the top revenue source for bands that don’t get fat contracts (about 90% of them, that is) and is literally the fuel for all of the underground music movement.
As to why people buy merch, it’s never only one reason. It is a souvenir from a night you’ll remember forever, it’s a stylistic choice, it’s an addition to your collection, a way to show your colours on the street, to spread your favourite band’s name around, to directly support some artist who you really believe in, as well as a very long tradition.
It’s a crucial cog to the whole machine, folks over at 126 Hardcore Clothing or Out Of Medium will tell you that very often the people who produce and sell merch are the same who book and set up shows, who take care of lights and sound, who drive the van around, who make sure everyone’s on time, who literally curate the whole of the liveshow experience.
How has the Greek music industry been coping with the repercussions of the ongoing health crisis?
An over optimistic person would argue that one good thing about the COVID-19 crisis is that it has had a very equal and democratic impact, as it hit everyone in the industry. No matter how big or small, it brought everybody in a position to slow down and deal with it and didn’t favor the large corporations while crushing the little guy.
If that could make sense, the Greek industry was hurt and now recovers in the same way as all others and I believe we have reasons to be positive. Of course, all liveshow activity was frozen, but we did see a steady response and a comeback in online sales from the indie record stores and music sales websites. A sign that people were eager to spend their money on the product, that they didn’t lose interest, and that gives strength to the local businesses that kept their quality bar high, even in these times.
Our record label, Made Of Stone Recordings, practically took off amidst the quarantine, didn’t postpone the scheduled launch and the support of the people was overwhelming. The releases took place on time, the shipping was understandably adjusted and the feedback from both bands and music fans was encouraging.
The summary in situations such as these is always the same, people just love music. In all forms, in all ways provided, no matter how difficult the circumstances come to be. And that is an unbeatable feature.
Thank you for answering!